This post is part of our ongoing focus on leaders implementing digital strategies to enhance efforts with enrollment management. In November, we focused on Sundar Kumarasamy at the University of Dayton. To ring in 2014, the spotlight is on Matt Bundrick, Assistant Web Manager at Clemson University under the Creative Services Web Team.
In late 2013, I spent time with Matt to discuss a major project that began with the Clemson Web Team in February of 2013. To support Clemson’s strategic marketing plan, the Web Team underwent a top-level site redesign process. During the months prior to their successful launch in August, all aspects of the existing top-level Clemson.edu experience were scrutinized through the lens of traffic analytics and analysis.
Just a few months earlier, in May of 2012, the same team completed one of their first major projects, the Majors microsite, which has since garnered multiple awards (for the Recruitment category and Grand Award at the CASE District III Conference in 2012) and honorable mentions in the blogosphere. In 2013, Carnegie Communications was retained for the redesign with an analytics review, SEO consultation, and Display advertising program. During that time, we observed the strength of the Clemson team first-hand. As every single website (education-centric and otherwise) are subject to change with clear intentions of best representing an institution or organization online, we thought we’d focus on the path that has led Matt, his colleagues, and Clemson through their continued successes with Clemson.edu.
Starting from scratch
As they rolled up their sleeves, Matt and his colleagues looked back on historical data to understand what content their audiences engaged with, what they didn’t engage with, and why (and, perhaps more importantly, why not). If something was working, they sought to find ways to optimize on established success. If the team found data that indicated navigation or content could be improved upon, focus was placed on implementing positive change. With emphasis on hard data, the team gathered narrative feedback from focus groups of high school students and parents to understand what resonated most with their audience.
During the redesign, Matt and his colleagues were focused primarily on external audiences. Looking specifically at industry studies that report 83% of prospective student search engine queries begin with a non-branded term (i.e., science, music, English) as they look for their area of interest, Clemson worked towards providing the user with the best possible experience once they landed on Clemson.edu. Before considering user experience, their work in consultation with Carnegie to focus on Search Engine Optimization was intended to improve Clemson’s presence on search engine results pages and increase traffic to the website. All three processes (redesign, SEO, and display advertising) worked in concert to generate an audience and provide an extremely useful experience. In Matt’s own words, “You don’t get a second time to give a good first impression.”
As with any project of this size and scope, an overwhelming amount of data was unearthed right off the bat. The biggest obstacle lies not within finding data, but rather with using it effectively to inform institutional decisions. Involving a full school community in website decision-making is a formidable challenge within itself. At Clemson, these common roadblocks were addressed through a rock-solid team organization that hit all necessary areas while making considerable redesign changes: function, content, and design. Matt, two design/developers, a content editor, and a manager drove their process in a continual internal feedback loop with key University stakeholders brought in as a final step.
To begin, historical data was analyzed and proposed changes were made by Matt and his team. Two primary areas of focus were audience (are you a student, faculty or staff member, graduate, or partner visiting the site?) and category (there should be a well-defined path for each of the aforementioned audience segments: something “more purposeful than accidental”). Once the team had come up with a plan, their proposals were implemented and shared with key stakeholders that touched all areas of the institution. Feedback was considered, revisions were made, and a final product was delivered. To see this process in real time, visit the Clemson top-level domain for a clear representation of the time, care, and effort placed on clear and cohesive navigation for all visitors to the site.
If there was one topic that came up the most during our chat, it wasn’t the website, the process, or the eventual product. Above everything else, Matt spoke of the internal harmony, talent and camaraderie of the people he works with. Each individual on the team were, in his own words, the key driver of their success. The process was scrupulous, but they were periodically reminded of their efforts with positive results throughout. In August, as the admission season geared up and the updates were pushed live, the project was done. Although internal and external audiences were thrilled with the end result, it wouldn’t be until December that they would begin analyzing initial results.
Through a collaborative analysis of Clemson’s efforts between Carnegie and the University, the following increases in traffic were present with a year-to-year comparison (of 9/1/2013–11/30/2013 and 9/1/2012–11/30/2012):
- Admission Home Pageviews were up 35.18%.
- Student Portal Pageviews were up 8.59%.
- Faculty/Staff Pageviews were up 20.13%.
- Views of the Visit Clemson landing page were up 10.11%.
In a fantastic example of user-centric design focused on results, the project addressed Clemson’s desire to drive prospective student audiences to apply on their website (not on an admission-specific page, but everywhere). The solution to this, the “Apply Now” ribbon (pictured below, to the right of the image), has been clicked a total of 26,646 times by 23,719 unique visitors during the same timeframe. In retrospective, Matt spoke to the importance of function behind user experience: “The differentiating factor, I believe, in our website is the level of attention we paid to the functional details. I have a great amount of respect for our team knowing that we were unwilling to compromise on quality.”
As Matt and his colleagues welcome 2014, it’s clear that their efforts in 2013 have measured progress and promise against Clemson’s institutional goals in building local and global awareness. As an alumnus of Clemson himself, bringing forward the story of his alma mater to a wider audience must be extraordinarily rewarding.
When I look back on our conversation, I’m reminded of a quote from the 2009 commencement address at Stanford University delivered by Steve Jobs: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.” If passion, collegiality, and enthusiasm toward his work and colleagues are any indicators, it’s safe to say that Matt has found his place.